Open Education Vancouver Aftermath


What is Open Education?

I ask myself this question regularly and I am at the moment. When you return from some conferences you find your thoughts and underlying philosophies challenged, and I suppose they should be. Open education is certainly changing the world and leading to new opportunities for learners and educators! We talk about the student experience, but I’m all for the “staff experience” too – those working at the coal-face of education, working horrendously long hours, and I’m glad to say, open educational resources (OERs) are making a difference here too. At the OPENED12 conference there were plenty of examples of educators, tutors, teachers, lecturers sharing learning resources and saving time; involving students in open education activities to enrich their learning, and involving external parties and employers in open education to produce high-quality, real-life resources.


OPENED12 Vanvouver


Global picture

What struck me the most from visiting the US and Canada this year is that open education is a growing and living mystical beast that takes on its own form in different countries and continents. This is just my humble perception. One area of impact and the “big hit” in the US is the production of open source text books. (Open text books, e-books, eBooks, or e-by-gum-books as they’d say in Yorkshire). They mean any digital book (delivered by the web or a gadget) that is free or at a reduced-cost to students. So this is when I fell off my chair. “A reduced-cost to students”. How can open text books be marketed using the “open” brand, for which most of the globe believes to represent free in the sense of liberty and cost? How can these books be compiled using OERs and content produced elsewhere (and there were plenty of examples of this). How can commercial companies then use this to market product? Well they can, and they are. And the same goes for commercial companies packaging up OER into on-line courses to sell.

How do they get away with it?

The trouble is, it is difficult to police the terms of the open licences. If I stamp the Creative Commons variant “NC” (non-commercial) on my OER, how can I police where my resources end up? Another get-out-clause is the Creative Commons variant “SA” (share-alike) which means my OER can be commercially exploited (I don’t care about that), but publishers must share the item back. Again, I can’t police this.


Apart from knees trembling and reaching for the gorgonzola, how do we stop the whole open education idea getting smashed-up? The open education community can pledge to use these OER which have been lovingly laboured over, in a fair and just way as they were originally intended. Or perhaps I’m being ridiculous and it doesn’t really matter? Or perhaps I’ve been really daft for the last four or five years and not really understood. But, nay. Open education takes investment of time and money to sustain, so a cut of the profits should be distributed back to the original author. We also need to educate our learners that open education means just that; it doesn’t mean “low-cost” education, no matter how attractive that might also be. Everyone I know in open education does it because they passionately believe in the underlying cause, and it feels like exploitation of my good will, (late nights, bleary eyes), if someone then can make a fast buck out of my efforts.


In my talk I discussed how an OER takes on its own form and life-cycle. A healthy life cycle means OER can be easily found, used and mashed-up by the next user.  Get THIS right and you end up with really “open” and “accessible” materials – OER that is useful for all types of learner with all types of needs.


You can access my slides on Slideshare, available:

Search for “UKOER” or “OPENED12” for plenty of other slides and presentations contributing to the open education debate.


Biology Courses in Las Vegas Days 2 and 3

Well being a biomedical scientist I am still dying to call it Las Vagus! (One of the most important nerves in the body!) But day two of the biology courses team attending the SLOAN-c conference continues to be an awesome experience, as do the sights of Vegas by night. It is very easy to lose track of it being day or night, especially as my body clock is completely upside down.

I spoke to someone from Grand Canyon University today which not only sounds like a fabulous place to work but talked about one of their distance learning courses that caters for 50,000 students. Everything seems to be on such a vast scale over here. Walk up Vegas high street and you have erupting volcanos, gondolas,  water fountains and fireworks. They clearly aren’t bothered about their carbon footprint, but hey, you’ve got to have some fun in the world and stop taking it all so seriously.



My presentation was on day three at 11am Friday 27th July which coincided with the opening of the Olympic Games in London. My talk explained about the biology courses open education project and it went down well as I described open education activities in the UK and at De Montfort University. There were a range of subject specialists in the audience from maths and statistics, to life sciences and chemistry. They seemed to share the opinion that open educational resources can help meet basic skills deficits in laboratory techniques, and there is a real move to “flip” education – that is, to give the learning materials before teaching sessions and practicals to then give more time for discussion and interaction. I’m not sure how this might work with a lecture theatre full of nearly 200 students studying our biology courses like Medical Science and Biomedical Science, but hey I might give it a go.

So what will I do differently when I get home? I will try “flipping” at least for some sessions. I will look into eBooks and magazines as a way of delivering materials to students, and this seems to be the growing thing here with all students kitted out with iPads at some institutions! I think this would be a great concept for our own biology courses if students could have their laboratory schedules and help materials on iPads in the lab – although they will have to be waterproof! Are iPads waterproof by the way? They look pretty indestructible although I have had one crack on me! I’m adamant that we need electronic systems to track student achievement and progression and I have an APP to try out that achieves that in a very simple way.

So I will be sad to leave Vegas and leave behind some good friends from the conference. Next stop Boston over on the East Coast where I will be meeting people to talk more about our Biology Courses project.

Science teaching resources at OER 12 Cambridge

In April the Biology Courses team presented their work about openly sharing science teaching resources at UK conferences. Following the STEM Annual Conference at Imperial College in London in April, the team then went to Cambridge for OER12 from 16th – 18th April 2012.

OER (Open Educational Resources) is an annual event and this year was co-organised with OCW (Open CourseWare Consortium) and SCORE (Support Centre for Open Resources in Education run by the Open University). This was an amazing event with delegates from all around the globe talking about open education in India, Indonesia, Africa and Brazil. Of course being held in the beautiful location of Cambridge in the UK was just a bonus.

What is Open CourseWare?

OpenCourseWare or OCW is a phrase used globally along with OER to represent the sharing of course materials on the internet. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US were the first institution to really support the wholesale release of their learning materials, and now the OCW consortium is an established organisation comprising of hundreds of schools, colleges and universities around the world.

What is SCORE?

SCORE is a support centre for open education in the UK based at the Open University. The centre offers training and support, and has funded a number of fellowships that have enabled individuals to become specialist and informed about open education. Of course, this also provides a great networking opportunity to share ideas about open education with others from all over the UK.

In the Cambridge talk, Dr Viv Rolfe spoke about the “Biology Courses” project which is releasing and openly sharing a wide range of science teaching resources. Our approach is to share our OER on specially designed websites – like the one you are on now in fact! We use on-line marketing techniques called search engine optimisation (SEO) to help our websites rank highly in Google and therefore attract visitors to the site. The talk explained our SEO strategy and how we are monitoring progress and visitor numbers. SEO is a huge technical task, and Dr Rolfe is not an expert, but in the talk summarised the main points which are of interest to the educational community.

Our websites receive thousands of visitors and from our feedback surveys it is interesting to see that our learners come in all shapes and sizes. In fact it is dangerous to assume ever who might want to view your learning materials. We reach learners of all backgrounds and ages. However, it also makes sense to target our science materials to the best audiences and we do this using social networking. We send information to Twitter groups and also have a Facebook page where particularly we link into university students and local colleges who have an interest in studying biology at university and the use of science teaching resources.

To view the slides from the Cambridge OER12 OCW Conference on 16-18th April 2012, go to Slideshare: